Dumb animals take to automatic milking with ease – now what about the rest of us?

Taoiseach Enda Kenny puts his foot in it at National Ploughing Championships

Taoiseach Enda Kenny visiting the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, Stradbally, Co Laois yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny visiting the National Ploughing Championships at Ratheniska, Stradbally, Co Laois yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson.


Scarcely 10 minutes at the ploughing and Enda Kenny had already put his foot in it. The photographers surged forward. “Lads, lads – keep away from the sod!” barked an official. A bit harsh on the Taoiseach, in fairness.

But we kept our distance.

When you look at the size of the tractors and the heavy ploughs with their steel chains, it’s astonishing how precise the ploughman must be when opening a seam and delicately turning the sod. Once that first straight incision is made in the grass, no foot can sully the freshly exposed soil.

The settling clay trickles into the slightest indentation when the plough sweeps back down the line. It could mean the difference between winning and losing when the slide rules come out.

Nobody steps on the sod.

Enda arrived in the upper field to a great welcome. He first met John Whelan from Wexford, reigning world champion and was allowed into the hallowed field for photographic purposes. “Nearer, nearer!” shouted the photographers. So Enda moved closer to the world champion’s freshly opened seam. He smiled for the cameras.

Suddenly, the big men in dungarees drew a sharp intake of breath. Some quickly turned their heads, as if they had just witnessed something they really didn’t want to see. For Enda had his foot in the furrow.

Oh, dear God.

Black lace-ups
It was like that awful moment in the Olympics when a dancing priest wearing a kilt pushed the marathon frontrunner off the course. Thankfully, the Taoiseach was not wearing his mountain climbing boots. He wore his normal black lace-ups.

Without a word, Enda daintily lifted an ankle and stepped clear.

Nothing was said.

We moved on to the horses.

Gerry King won his 11th All-Ireland senior title on Wednesday and he was out again yesterday with his two sons and their French-bred Comtois horses. Lovely animals, with flaxen manes and fringes. ”When I bought them, they didn’t know my line because they’re from France” he told Enda. “Everything went alright, but there was a wee bit of a language barrier for a while.”

Back on the showgrounds, the only thing he had to guard against was putting his foot in his mouth in the presence of the media.

At the Fine Gael tent, he had an adoring audience. He told them his government’s task is to sort out “as many of the running sores left behind by the previous administration” as is possible. Enda was besieged by young Fine Gael members as he moved through the throng. One them, David Gazeley (17) from Cleariestown in Wexford produced a copy of Enda Kenny – The Unlikely Taoiseach for him to sign.

Did he bring the book along specially? “No. I got it this morning for a euro from one of the newspaper shops.”

A larger than life cardboard cut-out of MEP Mairead McGuinness followed him about. Upon closer inspection, we saw that Maireád was carrying it herself.

Elections are coming.

A large crowd gathered outside to catch a glimpse of the Taoiseach. Many were there to shake his hands, more watched out of curiosity and more seemed to be there because of the whiff of celebrity about him.

Not everyone was impressed. “Would ya look at him with the big slimy head on him,” remarked one woman as he passed in the middle of a moving maul.

There was pandemonium in the packed walkway on the way to the headquarters of the National Ploughing Association. Enda was surrounded by political colleagues, including Junior Minister Tom Hayes, local TD Charlie Flanagan and sundry TDs. Then there were handlers, media, a large contingent of police and two men dressed in fluffy black and white cow costumes, complete with enormous heads.

They managed to hold their positions near the Taoiseach despite discreet efforts to elbow them out of camera range. Finally, with security men manning the doors, Enda and his entourage squeezed inside. The cows didn’t make the cut and ended up pleading for entry along with two men saying: “We’re from the Free Presbyterian Church.”

It’s a crowded market for churches at the ploughing.

“Free tea, free bible, free calendar, free Presbyterian Church of Ireland, ” said the posters for their stand.

Celebrity Enda was mobbed wherever he went. Celebrity is the big currency. Marty Morrissey was treated like a god. And Sinéad Cashin, one of the hardworking backroom staff at the NPA headquarters suffered a broken finger on Wednesday when a door was slammed on her hand during the stampede after Dragon’s Den panellist Gavin Duffy.

During a brief press conference, the Taoiseach was asked to comment on the news that €200,000 in cash was found in the home formerly owned
by Priory Hall owner Tom McFeely. He said it was an example of the worst excesses of the Celtic Tiger.

A visit to the Lely automatic milker stand was a highlight for the Taoiseach, and everyone else. This amazing machine weighs, washes, feeds and milks cows in one go. And the best thing about it is that the animals are trained to enter the stall themselves whenever they fancy being milked.

Seeing these dumb animals offering themselves up to be milked put us in mind of next month’s budget, when the government is going to milk the people to keep our European masters in cream.

They won’t be queueing for the privilege.